4 Ways to Build an Effective Cross-Functional Team

To build a cross-functional team, you need to choose the right team members from each department, clarify goals, and make one place for communication.

Daniel Ternyak
January 29, 2023

Team collaboration is undoubtedly needed in every business. But when each employee is sectioned off into their own department and role, tasked to report to one direct manager, communication is often kept within team borders. 

Your teams may do double the work simply because they don’t know what their peers are working on. Human resources doesn't reach out to finance, and marketing doesn't reach out to sales — even when both teams are aiming for the same goals. Building a cross-functional team can help you unite your entire organization and achieve greater efficiency.

Here, we'll explain what cross-functional teams are and how they can benefit your business. We'll also offer tips on how you can foster strong cross-functional collaboration within your organization.

What is a cross-functional team?

A cross-functional team is a group of people from different departments who work together to reach a common goal. This type of team is usually formed to tackle a specific project, in which different skill sets are needed. For example, ahead of a product release, project managers may select members of your sales, marketing, and product teams to lead the way and work together toward a smooth launch.

The team members you select will still work on projects within their own departments. But they'll also play a key role in connecting your organization by taking ownership of a cross-functional project.

3 benefits of cross-functional teams

Getting rid of the divisions within your organization can help you create a more productive and engaged team. Here are three ways you can benefit from cross-functional collaboration:

1. Enhance team communication

cross functional team: Teammates having a meeting

One major challenge businesses face is the existence of silos. Silos occur when different teams work on their own and only communicate with each other when a project is passed from one team to the next. Lack of communication can also occur between people at different levels of your organization (like C-suite and junior managers).

Cross-functional teams get rid of these silos by giving diverse team members reasons to work together on a regular basis. This allows your employees to get to know each other's expertise and communication styles. As a result, internal relationships may improve. Your team members won't be as hesitant to ask questions, pitch ideas, or offer advice to each other, which can pave the way for more innovation.

2. Boost efficiency

When silos go away, knowledge is shared. This can reduce major bottlenecks in your daily processes by ensuring the best team member for a task is always the one performing it. For example, a silo mentality can lead your sales team to manage every aspect of the sales funnel alone. But cross-functional collaboration encourages them to reach out to designers when building ad campaigns or to marketing managers for help with email automation.

Plus, reduced skills gaps creates more informed team members. This allows for faster problem-solving and decision-making processes.

Given that the average worker spends 28% of their day navigating red tape — often getting sign-offs or writing reports — cross-functional teams can create a more productive workforce by breaking those barriers.

3. Boost employee engagement

Engaged employees can increase your profits and are more likely to perform their best. Cross-functional teams work well because they give chosen team members a sense of responsibility and pride for their work. They give individual employees a chance to shine in their areas of expertise, even if they're only seen as entry-level workers within their departments.

Team-building occurs naturally when cross-functional collaboration starts. When diverse team members mingle more, this can boost camaraderie, which can contribute to more accountability. No one will want to let other team members down.

4 ways to help your cross-functional teams succeed

cross functional team: Colleagues smiling while looking at their teammate's laptop screen

Cross-functional teams aren't without their challenges. For example, team members may still feel most loyal to their departments. But the right practices can help your employees become high-performing team members. Here are four tips you can put into action:

1. Select subject matter experts for your teams

Choosing subject matter experts can offer helpful, fact-based insights and perspectives that teams otherwise might miss.

When choosing members for a cross-functional team, don't tap someone just because they're in a high-ranking position. You want the best fit for the roles you want to create as well as your specific project. For example, if your goal is to optimize the onboarding experience, you could select someone from your development team who helped create new user tutorials in the past.

2. Set clear goals and responsibilities

Creating a cross-functional team without a team goal is like jumping on a train without a destination. Chosen team members must decide exactly where they're headed, so they can find the best path to get there.

When setting goals, make sure your cross-functional team defines measures of success. They should know what exact metrics they need to hit — for example, a total revenue figure — and when.

Cross-functional teams should also assign each member a specific role with clear responsibilities that match their skill sets. A team leader must be designated, too. This allows for efficient project management, since one person will be charged with following up on tasks. Plus, the team leader can have final say on decisions in case of conflict.

3. Create a dedicated communication channel

While cross-functional teams can improve your employees' communication skills, communication at the start of the project can be rocky. After all, your team members will be new to working with each other. Instead of spreading out messages across channels, which is inefficient, you can streamline them on one clear, convenient channel.

As an example, you can create a private Slack channel just for the current project. This discussion room can act as your virtual workspace for efficiently sharing ideas, assigning tasks, and even getting to know other team members. This can amplify all three benefits of a cross-functional team.

4. Switch up your cross-functional teams

Employees shouldn't stay in the same cross-functional team for the rest of time. The point of this form of collaboration is to connect each worker to a variety of people at your organization. By the time a cross-functional project is complete, those team members will have already built rapport with each other.

While you can keep the same team members together if they truly are the best fits for your next project, switching up teams can be beneficial, too. It further improves relationships across your organization. Plus, it'll expose your team members to new knowledge, ideas, and skills that they otherwise wouldn't have picked up. This can help foster continuous improvement in your individual team members.

A team that works together improves together

Bringing together team members from different functional areas of your business can help you boost productivity and engagement in your company. And since cross-functional collaboration leads to more shared knowledge, it can also help your team members grow as professionals. With our tips — including setting clear goals and choosing the right team members — you can form a strong, diverse team.

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